Understanding Your Rights When Dealing with Addiction, Recovery, and Child Custody

Mother snuggling toddler.
January 4, 2021
|   updated:
July 26, 2021

If you are struggling with addiction, understand that your right to visitation, parenting time, or overall child custody rights may be affected. However, your parental rights could remain the same - you have the right to maintain a relationship with your child so long as contact is achieved safely and remains in the best interest of the child.

The extent to which child custody and visitation are affected often depends on the severity of a situation. With regards to cases involving alcohol abuse, the courts are often most concerned with implementing appropriate safeguards so that a child may continue to flourish under both parent’s guardianship. In this article, one Philadelphia Family Law Attorney discusses how you can ensure you remain an active role in your child’s life regardless of current or past addiction.

Addiction, Dependence, and Substance Abuse

These three words are often used interchangeably, however, they can reference prescription drugs, illicit drugs, or alcohol. The language you use to describe your past or current substance abuse may affect your child custody or parenting time arrangements.

Addiction can be used to describe a condition of dependence upon and/or craving for an addictive substance. Typically, someone is referred to as an addict if they depend upon or uncontrollably crave illicit drugs, abuse prescription drugs, or abuse alcohol. Alcohol abuse is one of the leading addictions in the US, with less than 10% of people diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the US having received any treatment.

Dependence upon a substance may be considered more benign, as when someone “depends” upon high blood pressure medication or antidepressants in order to live a healthy and happy life, and if having to stop that medication, would have to wean themselves off over time. Dependence upon a prescription drug when prescribed is not necessarily a negative thing when a health condition warrants it. An individual who abuses drugs or alcohol can also be described as “dependent” upon that specific substance.

The term substance abuse is used to describe unauthorized use or the misuse of an addictive substance. Binge drinkers, individuals who exhibit the most deadly form of excessive alcohol use, are categorized as substance abusers. Alternately, anyone who improperly uses prescription drugs, or uses them without a prescription, is also classified as a substance abuser.

No matter the technical term, being transparent about your history of alcohol or substance abuse and commitment to recovery can affect how a judge determines your fitness for child custody or unsupervised parenting time.

How Child Custody is Awarded

Single dad holding infant son

Most Family Law Courts are guided by the ‘best interests of the child’ standard, which assists judges in determining what’s most beneficial for the child in a custody case. Prior to making a custody ruling, a judge will often consider:

  • The child’s age, as younger children need more hands-on care;
  • Each parents’ living situation and ability to provide;
  • How best to maintain a consistent routine for the child;
  • The impact of any proposed change to the child’s current routine or lifestyle;
  • The physical safety and emotional well-being of the child.

If the child is old enough, a judge may also consider the child’s personal wishes.

Can You Demonstrate a Commitment to Sobriety?

If you struggle with substance abuse, a judge may rule for you to provide proof of sobriety as a custody stipulation.

Such court-admissible documentation may come in the form of random drug tests, enrolling in a treatment program, or committing to remote alcohol monitoring programs like Soberlink.

For many struggling individuals, this type of added accountability can help rebuild trust in familial relationships as well as help improve the recovery process. In custody and alcohol abuse cases where a child’s safety is in question, Family Courts can order a comprehensive system that offers real-time results, providing peace of mind to Concerned Parties and court officials. Innovative tools like this not only help parents maintain a relationship with their child but help foster child safety in otherwise risky co-parenting arrangements. Further, upon a court’s review of your progress, a judge may modify your parenting plan if consistent progress is evident.

The Bottom Line for Parents Seeking Custody

Man submitting Soberlink test

Millions of people divorce every year. Many of those individuals have families and children to care for. In unions where drug or alcohol addiction is present and separation imminent, families should be knowledgeable about what options are available to them when pursuing split custody.

For Concerned Parties fearful of their child’s safety, alcohol or an alternative form of monitoring may be requested to be introduced into a parenting plan. For parents struggling with addiction, a court order could be the ticket to receiving shared custody of their child.

Regardless of each individual’s unique situation, addiction should not inhibit a parent from sustaining a relationship with their child. This is especially evident given how advancements in technology are helping countless people achieve their litigation goals.

Your best chances of gaining unsupervised visitation or shared custody are to demonstrate to the judge that you are establishing healthier habits by showing court-admissible proof of sobriety documentation, completion of an addiction recovery program, or evidence of behavioral therapy.

While laws are in place to protect the children in custody litigation first and foremost, they is also legislation favoring the parent. Do your research, know your rights, and be willing to make the appropriate changes so that you may be awarded ample time with your child despite past or present chemical dependency.

Learn More About Soberlink

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